Inflating Design to Deflate Stress
Jeremyville is a cartoonist and vinyl artist who makes characters and sells products that encourage happiness. And boy, do we need happiness these days. Currently on view in the Cooper Hewitt garden for summer 2017 is “Jethro Bunny,” a 7-foot-tall pink fiberglass sculpture by the Brooklyn-based artist. Jethro Bunny is the newest incarnation in Jeremyville’s “Community Service Announcement” series—an ongoing collection of drawings and sculptures created as a tool for change and positivity. I asked him to get positive with me and talk more about his projects and motivations.
Tell me what the Jeremyville Community Service Announcements were established to accomplish? The aim of the Jeremyville CSA project is to explore such concepts as self-awareness, personal growth, forgotten values, love, loss, and what it means to be human in our day and age, through simple imagery and words. The aim is to cut through the noise and visual barrage of our hectic information age.
I want each message to be a quiet moment in our day, a simple message to relate to or feel good about, and to make life a bit happier and thoughtful. Also, to hopefully connect with people of all ages, and to provide a moment of stillness and introspection. I’ve drawn around 1,200 so far, and I think of them anywhere; lately I’ve been drawing them on the subway. I probably have about 400 in development in various stages of completion. They might seem simple but it takes a lot to get them that sparse.
Jethro Bunny gives me the same sense of calm that Harvey (Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary—?—Pooka) in the film of the same same offers. Is this a time when we should jump further down into our imaginations? Indeed, now more than ever. Imagination, play and abstract thinking are tools we can utilize at any age, in any career path, and not just the domain of child’s play.
Jethro Bunny is the alter ego of us all. He’s a manifestation of the part of us that we have forgotten, that’s gone missing, and is lost: The playful, the surreal and the childlike imagination and wonder within us. Play is serious business, and at any age the implementation of play and lateral thinking solves problems, reduces stress and opens channels to alternate thinking, and a path to rediscover our innate creativity. It’s an essential tool to rediscover within us, to help us navigate these complicated times in our world. And Jethro is a key to that rediscovery, writ large. A modern day totem for an earlier time within us that we have forgotten.
Stress is not only a real illness, it seems to be a fashionable one too. How do we use your CSAs to lead us to what you call the “righteous path through this life”? I try and keep the CSA messages really open and sparse, like an acoustic singer songwriter playing with only one instrument, but creating sonic landscapes with lyrics and melody. The simpler the drawing is, the better, as this provides a doorway for people to walk through, and to add their own interpretations onto the messages, and to complete it with their own experiences. That way each message is personalized by the reader, and it connects on a deeper level. The simpler and more poetic the lyric, the more open it is to interpretation.
We all should take more time to de-stress, to contemplate life and enter into our own thoughts, like reading a haiku poem, or listening to a guitar played by a campfire. I try to create this feeling of introspection and contemplation during our busy day.
When I draw each CSA, I myself enter into a meditative state, and it’s my way of recalibrating my journey through life, and finding my way back to my own path in life. That is the way I use my art in my daily life. It’s my tool for survival and growth. I feel we all can use something that we express ourselves through to provide that map for retracing our steps back onto our own path. It could be cooking, gardening, fashion, pet care, DIY, craft … anything that allows us to open a dialog with ourselves through feeling, not words.
Would you say that art—that your art, in particular—is a message or a massage? A call to act or a license to relax? Definitely both, as I feel that my CSA project should have something to say, but say it with positivity and empathy, not cynicism or sarcasm. There’s a lot of art in the world already that mainly speaks with sarcasm and bitterness.
I have a grand aim to try and change the world through my imagery and icons, but in a positive way, and not through anger or sarcasm. That positive answer or conclusion, though, has been hard-won through my own struggles, questioning and darkness, and I then attempt to provide that message or conclusion in an easily understood way for all people on earth. I want my art to communicate efficiently, which is why I try and keep it simple, but I feel it contains layers and meanings within it for the viewer to uncover.
What other inflatables have you got up your sleeve or in the air? And what meanings do you attach to them? We have several large-scale CSA sculptures in development, which will be seen around the world shortly. Creative Director Megan Mair and I travel around the world hosting CSA workshops in conjunction with their releases. To me, public art is a way to spread your message outside the gallery system, and their aim is to recall our innate sense of freedom, self-expression and playfulness that we all once had as children, and that most of us have forgotten in our adulthood. Not all take the form of inflatable sculptures; some are giant CSA messages in a 3D form, rather than the added layer of recalling an inflatable toy from our childhood, as Jethro does.
To me, fun and a sense of humor is serious business, and it has the power and ability to change the world. It’s not just for gallery-goers, but ought to open up a dialogue with the general public. I want the sculptures to reinstate a connection to our imagination, our bravery, lateral thinking, and to that magical feeling we had growing up—that anything in our life is possible.
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